On the afternoon of April the 8th, a friend and co-worker, Micah Berthold, died from injuries sustained in a car accident. That morning, I finished writing my final exegetical paper of my high school experience on Revelation 22. Our talk last night recalled it to my mind and I want to share it here, as well as the brief note I included when I emailed my paper to Mr. Cote.
Of all the chapters in the world to have written my final exegetical paper on, this was it. When you read it, you will note that it was obviously written before I heard news of Micah's death. When I finished the paper yesterday morning, I never dreamed that it would so immediately come back to me as a comfort. I guess I'm trying to say thank you for this assignment because no matter how much it hurts, I am reminded that I have that hope. Life is messed up, but it won't always be that way. And as wrong as it all seems and as weak a comfort as it is right now, he is in a better place.
The paper (it is written in a certain form, so I apologize if it is a little awkward):
Revelation is one of the major sources of apocalyptic literature in the Bible, and with that designation comes stunningly beautiful imagery. It was composed by John as a written account of his visions while on the island of Patmos concerning the days to come, and it is addressed to “the seven churches … in Asia” according to Revelation 1:4, although seven does not necessarily denote specific churches so much as all churches because seven is a number used to imply completion in Revelations1. Revelation 22 is the final chapter of John’s saga, bringing the persecution to an end in the triumphant return of Jesus, who has come to establish his reign on earth. In John’s description of his revelation, there are distinct allusions to Genesis 1-3 as God’s original intent for His creation is realized. Revelation 22 begins with that description, then John touches on his encounter with the angel, and finally, he records God’s words to the people concerning their choice, ending with a blessing of grace.
In verse one, John says that God showed him a single “river of life” which refers back to Genesis 2:10 where it says that “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden.” In Eden, the river gave life to the plants growing therein, while its Revelation 22:1 parallel flows not from the center of Eden but from the throne of God. The life of this water is not in its components which facilitate photosynthesis, nor is it merely from an earthly well. Instead it provides soul life directly from God in a way not seen since Adam walked with Him, unashamed of his nakedness. John goes on to describe the collectively singular trees of life which grow around the river, producing an abundance of fruit in all seasons because the death which previously necessitated the cycle of growth and harvest no longer prevails in a world wholly alive. Noteworthy is the fact that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is no longer a part of the picture; its function no longer exists and the results of consuming its fruit have passed away with the redeeming act of Jesus’s death. This absence is explained in verse three, where John states that “there will no longer be any curse,” bringing the cycle of redemption to completion. Whatever the parallels to Genesis’s creation account are, the new earth appears to be an improvement in one respect: verse five says that there will be no need for light “because the Lord God will illumine [the people].” Paradise, then, will not be an exact replica of the Eden abandoned in the Fall. Instead, John points to a fulfillment of Eden occurring in typical Biblical fashion whereby it is “filled fuller” than before.
After describing the earth to come, John states the exact nature of his commission as it was given to him by the angel. The angel’s purpose was to provide an account of the things soon to come to the Lord’s bondservants on earth2. John identifies himself as the bondservant who is instrumental to spreading the prophetic word on earth in verse eight. When John heard these words, he says that he “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel.” John was simultaneously awed and humbled in the face of this experience, but the angel tells him to worship God rather than a fellow servant. This redirection of John’s praise serves a purpose; the angel does not want John’s revelation to be on his authority. Instead, the entire prophecy is on God’s authority, so He is the one to be praised3. John is then given a specific command in verse ten to keep his prophecy “unsealed,” meaning that he is to spread it abroad in contrast to the earlier apocalyptic literature of Daniel which was meant to be sealed “until the end of time”4. The reason for this command lies in the same verse: “the time is near.”
The final words are a progression in thought. John has just established that the end is near, so he expresses a final call to redemption. In light of this purpose, verse eleven seems to be a contradiction. John tells the wrong to continue in their wrongdoing and the filthy to maintain their filthiness. However, his words refer to the dynamic nature of spiritual life. There can be no stasis, always a person is moving forward or he is moving backward5. That the filthy would be better off casting off their filth is highlighted in verse fourteen, where the angel adds the beatitude, “Blessed are those who wash their robes.” Therefore, verse eleven serves more as a means of contrast than a declaration that the filthy ought to remain so. Verse sixteen provides an ownership of John’s words by Jesus, reaffirming his authority as the ultimate foundation for John’s revelation. And in verse seventeen, the Holy Spirit and the bride of Christ offer a final invitation into Paradise to all who are thirsty. John concludes with some admonishments to preserve unchanged the words of his revelation and calls a blessing on all.
The main point of this passage is to give hope amidst present darkness with the description of abundant life soon to come. Although John tells of terrible famine, sickness, pestilence, and violence, he points to a time beyond the momentary pain that will stretch into eternity, far exceeding that brief period. If the Christians of the seven churches can but lift their eyes beyond that to the new earth to come, they will have the hope they need to carry on.
Perhaps those early Christians also struggled with a mindset too often embroiled in the trials of the present. The Thessalonians were warned by Paul not to let themselves slack off, but to constantly be on the alert, so it is not a giant leap in thinking. Yesterday, I received the news that a co-worker and all-around wonderful guy was in a terrible accident that has him attached to innumerable tubes and machines fighting to keep him alive. Multiple broken bones, a collapsed lung, brain swelling and inadequate oxygen flow… The picture is pretty hopeless. Right now I am struggling to hold on to hope that he will be okay and it is hard for me to believe that God will be able to work through this somehow. But this passage in Revelation, combined with something that the April 8th chapel speaker Conroy Lewis said, reminds me to look past the difficulties and the pain of the present. Micah’s situation may be awful, but I can still pray for his healing. And to be honest, he is one of few people my age that I think could actually come out stronger. He will need every ounce of strength that God can give him, but as Mr. Cote recently said at Headmaster’s Round Table, God gives specific anointing to people in specific situations. And failing all else, Micah is a Christian. Life hurts in so many ways, but the promise of the future is the hope of Jesus Christ. To despair is to deny him again.